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Knowing your place

Rev Harry Currie

Oct 8, 2023

2 Timothy 1:8-14, Luke 17:1-21

Let me tell you a bit about Jack Russell Terriers.

They are feisty dogs with a lot of spirit and character, and since they are bred to go down holes after rodents, they are pretty fearless and for a little dog pretty ferocious by times.

They are the preeminent pack dog who are all about finding their place in the pack and if nobody steps up to be the alpha dog, they are willing to fulfill the position.Give a Jack Russell an inch and he will take a mile.

Now some of you know that we used to have a Jack Russell named Marley and he not only knew his place in the pack, he knew everybody ‘s place in the pack.

When all my children were living at home. Marley knew everybody’s place and Marley would always sleep with the highest placed person in the pack.

Since Marley was Ben’s dog, Marley would go to bed with Ben. When Ben would go to work early in the morning, Marley would get out of Ben’s bed and make his way two flights upstairs to sleep with Fiona and I.

When we got up, he would make his way into the oldest child’s room (Kirsten’s) and sleep with her; and then if Kirsten got up, he would find his way down two flights of stairs into the next oldest child’s room…Andrew’s room. And if nobody was left, he would climb back two flights upstairs into Ali’s bed and sleep with Ali who was the  youngest.

Marley never changed the order while all the kids were home. That is, this dog never slept out of order, with someone lower in the food chain so to speak.

Especially when Marley was a teenaged dog about one year old, if you didn’t show Marley that you were higher in the pack, you were much more likely to be growled at and if you challenged him, the more likely he was to bite. We had to get special training for both us and Marley so Marley learned his place, and learned not to be so aggressive. Although it was a lifelong learning for Marley.

 

Maybe if you don’t have dogs, this all sounds a little crazy, but dogs need good strong leaders when they are in the wild, so they can hunt and defend themselves and so they don’t always tear themselves to pieces over petty little squabbles. Everybody learns their place in the pack and the pack runs smoothly.

Sometimes I think it isn’t much different in human society. Humans too need good strong leaders in churches, in cities and countries, so the pack learns to take care of itself, protect itself and so the humans don’t tear each other to pieces over petty little squabbles, or even over big squabbles.Any organization runs more smoothly if everybody knows their place.

 

One problem is...who gets to be on top and who gets to run things and who by virtue of being on top not only gets to run things and control things, but also gets to own things and have the wealth.

Another problem is that the ones who are on top in human society may not want what is best for society and the pack, only what is best for themselves.

What do you think? Are we like a pack with some who are on top and the rest of us are put in our place?

Well, I can think of times I have been put in my place by people who held power over me.As a child I was put in my place.There were times at school when I was put in my place.When I was a soccer player and a basketball player there were times when the coaches put me in my place.There have been times as a minister when congregants tried to put me in my place.

And I cannot say that the experience of being put in my place was always a good one. Most often it meant someone had control over me and I was put down in some way or even humiliated, and that I was considered a lower being, less important than someone else.

You see, place is very important. Being in place is about boundaries and delineations. It is about who is important and who is not. It is about who is control and who is not. It is about who is in and who is not.

 

And that is why the scriptures talk a lot about place.

 

In the world that the bible was written Place was important. People were put in their place.

 

       There were those who were believed to be blessed by God and those who were believed to be cursed by God.

There were those who had higher rank and status than others.

Rich people were more blessed than poor people.

Healthy people were more blessed than poor people.

Once branded a criminal, a prostitute, a traitor, or a sinner you were definitely not welcome to worship any more.

Men were more important than women.

…Adults more important than Children…

Free people greater than slaves…

In the Jewish faith, Jews were more important than Gentiles…

…Priests more important than lay people…

..Rabbis and Scribes more important than the uneducated...

 

The biblical world was very hierarchical and unfair. And it you were on the bottom of the rung, you were to stay there, and your life was very hard.

For Jesus day: The poor were very poor and the rich were very rich… and to quote Rudyard Kipling,

“…and never the twain shall meet.”

 

       And so even though the prophets told people to look out for the strangers and the widows and those less fortunate, Jesus was much more radical and his words turned the accepted social order upside down.

 

Some of the words of Jesus:

       Blessed are the poor. Blessed are those who are sad. Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are the victims.

       Jesus says that in his kingdom the crippled, the blind and the lame shall be invited.

Paul says there is neither Jew nor Greek, make no female, but all are one in Christ.

Mary the mother of Jesus sings about her soul magnifying the Lord. He has lifted up the poor and lowly and put down the rich and mighty.

Jesus says that he has come to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, and to set free the oppressed

Jesus says that we are to love our enemies and forgive those who do evil to us.

Jesus said that unless we become like children we shall not see the kingdom of God.

       I often use the term Dominion these days instead of Kingdom. Kingdom is a masculine term and I am trying to be more inclusive

 

The Dominion that Jesus was talking about was a radically different dominion of equality, freedom, love, acceptance and forgiveness for all people, good and bad, young or old, male or female, Jew or Gentile, Slave or free.

Everyone had a place a Jesus’ table. And the only people that got in trouble with Jesus, were the ones who kept others from his table

 

And the disciples are overwhelmed; Give us more faith Jesus. If you want us to preach this new dominion of love and change the world, we are going to need a whole lot more faith to do it.

 

And Jesus says. “If you have the faith of a mustard seed you could uproot this here mulberry tree and have it cast into the sea.”

 

       You see the mulberry tree refers to the entrenched way of doing things. The roots are deep and unmovable just like the social systems of Jesus’ day.

       There motto probably was:

A place for everyone and everything, and everything and everyone in its place.

 

But faith shows a new way of doing things, a way that can totally uproot the old system, the old arrangement, the old structure and throw it away.

 

       And it isn’t that we need a whole lot more faith, we just have to use the faith we already have.

 

The problem with us Christians is not what we do not know about faith and God’s will.

The problem with us is that we do not do the faith and do the will of God that we know.

       We know the ten commandments.

       We know we are love all people and to forgive all people.

We know we are to turn the other cheek and not repay violence with violence.

       We know we are to treat all people equally.

       We know that we are to give freely and liberally out of what God has given us.

       We know that we are to share our wealth and watch out for the weaker in society.

       We know we are to look after this earth.

       We know we are not to harbour hate and grudges and to speak kindly to all and be tolerant and respectful of all people.

       The problem is not that we need a whole lot more faith, the problem is we have to put our faith into action and do what Christ tells us to do and damn the consequences.

 

       You see in the dominion of love that Christ is talking about, this upside-down dominion, greatness is not measured by how much money one has, or by how much power one wields, or by finding your face on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine,

       Greatness is to be like Jesus and that is to be a servant.

 

Jesus talks about a man who comes in from the field. The servant is supposed to wait on him, not the other way around.

       In fact, the servant is just doing his job. The servant should not expect any extra reward.

 

Isn’t that a parable of today? People want to be extra-rewarded for what. For doing what they should do.

 

A man finds purse with a thousand dollars. The man turns it over to the police, but does what? He asks for a reward.

       Should we be rewarded for doing what is only right and fair.

       Why is it that we humans are always seeking praise and treats and reward just for doing what we know we should be doing?

       Should we be rewarded for not sleeping with someone else’s spouse.

       Should we be rewarded for not beating up our children?

       Should we be rewarded for not stealing from the company?

       Should we be rewarded for doing God’s will?

 

Or is being honest and loving and good and nice and kind and tolerant and respectful and forgiving not reward enough?

 

       In fact, what Jesus asks us to do is not only serve others, but to take up our cross and suffer. Timothy writes

        but join with me in suffering for the gospel.

 

Now most of us know something about suffering. Most of us have had some kind of sickness or accident. All of us have had a loved one get very ill, and all of us have had to deal with grief and loss.

       We know something about suffering.

 

But do we know what it is any more to suffer for the gospel, to suffer for Christ.

 

There was a movie out in 1998 called a civil action, based on a true story. The lead character Jan Schlictman played by John Travolta is a lawyer who is hired to sue a couple of industrial companies for polluting the water in East Holman, Massachusetts. The pollution caused an unusually high number of incidents of Leukaemia in children.

       As the case progresses Jan Schlictman puts more and more time and more and more resources of his own fighting to giant conglomerate companies.

       The trial is complex and very, very expensive until finally Schlictman runs out of money. Even though the jury gives him a partial victory, the judge has split the trial in to three parts and there is no money to continue and in the end Schlictman accepts a very minimal settlement, without the companies admitting fault.

       In effect he loses.

But not only does he lose, he loses his company and loses his personal wealth.

In one of the last scenes, he is before a judge dealing with personal bankruptcy and the judge asks for about his personal assets, car, house, bank accounts etc.

       …what the judge calls… ‘the measure of a man”

 

       it is an ironic statement, because it is the viewer who sees that this self-indulgent, well-to-do lawyer has been transformed into someone who cares. He gave all his wealth away not to win, but because he cared for his clients…

       Here now is a man who measures up, not in money but in sacrifice and caring.

 

He gives everything he has away. He loses everything for his clients, for others.

       This is what we believe Jesus did. He gave everything away, even his life for us.

 

And this is what we believe is the model for Christians.

       To give ourselves away for others, to serve them and even suffer for them.

 

That is what we believe is the true measure of a man or a woman.

 

       That is the place we are called to be. To give, serve and sacrifice for God and others.

 

And even though I am a minister, I find it extremely difficult.

       I have a mortgage and car payments and a family to support.

              I have a relatively stable job and I suppose am reasonably respected and I don’t want any conflict or trouble.

 

       I don’t want to sell all I have and give it to the poor, nor do I want to suffer…

 

And so the challenge for me..

       Maybe you have the same challenge is this…

 

Where do I do out of my way for God and for others?

       In what ways do I take my personal resources and gifts, financial, intellectual, artistic, emotional and spiritual and use them for God and others.

       Where do I actually sacrifice?

 

That could be your prayer homework for this week?

       Talk to God about what ways you already take your resources and serve others.

Talk to God about where the possibilities of where you could use your resources to help others.

       Ask God, “in what ways can I help people find a place. “A place of equality and a place of love.”

 

Today is thanksgiving.

       A wonderful day in the church. In fact, I think every Sunday should be a little thanksgiving. That is, I think we should always come to worship with the attitude of gratefulness for our lives, for this world, for all the love we have received and for the many blessings of God.

 

I think there is a temptation to come to worship and see what we get out of it. Did the sermon touch me, did the prayers move me, did the singing inspire me…etc?

Sometimes I have said something like: “I didn’t get much out of worship today. The sermon was kinda lame.”

I know what a few of you are thinking about this sermon. Don’t go there.

 

       I think a better attitude to come to worship is this. “I gave my all in worship today. I sang. I poured my heart out to God. I listened to God’s word. I dug in to my pockets. I gave my will and heart over to God. I am leaving a new person, ready to make a difference in this world through love.”

 

       I think the way to approach worship is that we should come “giving.”

       I think if we truly want to thank God, then we should do what God wants us to do.

And that is… use the faith and resources that God has given us to uproot old social systems where everybody is put in their place, and grant equality, freedom and love to all people,

       …to give of our selves so that all people will find a place at God’s table.

 

In the movie “Places in the Heart,” Sally Fields who won an Oscar for this role, plays the role of a widow in the deep south during the depression, whose husband is shot by a black man. She struggles to pay the bills, keep the farm going and her family together. She is aided by an itinerant black man and a small circle of friends. It is a story of struggle and hope. She is the victim of violence and later prejudice but she keeps on fighting to find a place for herself and her family

       What I thought was really neat was the closing scene of the movie. It is at church and there is communion, and the bread is being passed.

       As the camera slowly pans the congregation receiving communion, we recognize all the characters — those living and dead and departed for other places.

       We see a communion that is not like any communion that happened in the 1930’s. We see that blacks are having communion with whites. We see children taking communion.

       And we see a communion that is totally unreal, for the husband who was killed by a black man is handed the communion bread by the very man who killed him.

       It is an image of God’s Dominion. An image of God’s table, in which the lambs and the wolves, the wronged and the wrongdoers, the betrayers and the betrayed, are all together as one. It is an unforgettable cinematic statement about hope…

              …and about all of us having a place at God’s table.

 

       And this is not just some future hope.

              This is what we work for here and now, for God’s Dominion of love is not a place in the future.

       The Dominion of love is whenever God finds a place in our hearts.

                                           Amen.

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